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Somerset is the first county to launch a number of national initiatives designed to help make health services more accessible for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

According to recent research conducted by not-for-profit social enterprise Discovery, just 22% of people said they felt independent in their primary care setting, and 98% of GPs surveyed said they would benefit from training led by someone with lived experience.

Somerset is the first county to launch the national initiative #MyGPandMe, a training programme for GPs to help them learn how to make doctors surgeries more accessible for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Launched in June, Somerset County Council joined forces with Discovery and Somerset CCG to provide free training which will help GPs make ‘reasonable adjustments’ – changes which can make accessing NHS services easier for disabled people.

It’s little things such as booking longer appointments or appointments at quiet times, or having accessible information on the surgery website that can make all the difference to someone with a learning disability and/or autism.

The Council is also working with Somerset CCG to increase the uptake and quality of Annual Health Checks in Somerset as well as develop pilot schemes to trial new technologies which could support people with learning disabilities. Two smartphone apps, Hear Me Now and Brain in Hand, are being piloted with small groups of people.

The Hear Me Now app has been designed to help people manage their interactions with health services, helping them remember what to say or ask during medical appointments, share important information with their keyworkers and health professionals, and stay as independent as possible.

The Brain in Hand app helps people with learning disabilities or autism more generally, assisting them with decision making, remembering important information, planning, and managing anxiety.

David Huxtable, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care said: “We are delighted that Somerset is the first county to launch this nationwide e-learning for GPs, and spearheading the effort to address health inequalities. We’re also ambitious about using digital technologies to help people to live a good life, remain safe, well and as independent as possible.  We’re excited to be working directly with the people of Somerset to test and learn new approaches that could make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Peter Bagshaw, Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group’s Clinical Lead on Mental Health and Disability said: “Following the success of our Mental Health Trailblazer Pilot I am very proud that Somerset is again leading the way in improving the service we give to our patients. In regards to Learning Disabilities we have already increased annual health check take-up dramatically, and this training package is an important opportunity to increase the quality of support further”.

Helen Orford, Managing Director at Discovery said: “It was fantastic to see both Discovery, SCC and the CCG working together so closely on the launch of this initiative. The #MyGPandMe campaign for the improvement of access to primary care for those with learning disabilities, autism or complex needs is vitally important and having the support of David Huxtable and SCC and the CCG has extended its reach across the county.

“This training, in conjunction with great initiatives such as SCC’s development of an app for those with learning disabilities, is a huge step in the right direction for Somerset in raising awareness for the reasonable adjustments that can and should be made by GP practices, and I hope the example we are setting here will be adopted across the rest of the country.”

Mark Smith, coached by the Supported Employment Team and Discovery said: “I’d like GP surgeries to be more accessible for people with learning disabilities. Any information should be in large print, and it would be helpful if someone at the surgery could do sign language.”

The Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline number, 0300 790 6275, remains open seven days a week from 8am to 6pm, offering a range of support – from help accessing food or medicines, to emotional and financial support, and employment, skills and business advice.